The political tension, which emerged unexpectedly in the month of Ramadan and has been ongoing among some of the Gulf countries, occupies a top spot on the World’s agenda.
“Saudi Arabia, Egypt, United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Bahrain and later Yemen, Maldives, Mauritania and The Comoros Islands declared on 5th June to suspend their diplomatic relations with Qatar due to their claim that Qatar is supporting terrorist organizations such as the Muslim Brotherhood, DAESH and Al Qaida.”
To recall, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Bahrain and later Yemen, Maldives, Mauritania and The Comoros Islands declared on 5th June to suspend their diplomatic relations with Qatar due to their claim that Qatar is supporting terrorist organizations such as the Muslim Brotherhood, DAESH and Al Qaida. These countries announced that they decided by decree to withdraw their diplomats in Qatar. Additionally, they wanted the Qatari diplomats and Qatari citizens in their countries to leave within 48 hours and 14 days respectively, as well as suspending land, air and sea transportation with Qatar.
Moreover, in a joint declaration issued by Saudi Arabia, UAE, Egypt and Bahrain on 9th June, 59 people and 12 organizations residing in or related with Qatar were claimed to be “connected to terror” and it was declared that they were taken into “the terror list”. In the list where members of the ruling family in Qatar are seen to be present, names like President of the World Union of Muslim Scouts, Egyptian Yusul El Karadavi and Abdullah bin Halid El Sani who acted as the Minister of Internal Affairs in Qatar during 2012-2013 draws particular attention.
On 23rd June, Saudi Arabia, UAE, Egypt and Bahrain submitted through a joint decision, a list of 13 demands which allowed 10 days for Qatar to respond through Kuwait. When this list is carefully examined, one observes that it involves items that interfere with the internal affairs of a sovereign country, such as the request to shut down the Turkish military base in Qatar and to annually audit the agreement that is to be reached with Qatar. Moreover, the list includes a demand to shut down the Al Jazeera television network which is against the freedom of press in international relations. On the other hand, while it is recommended by the four countries that Qatar ends its commercial and economic relations with Iran, the fact that 8000 companies of Iranian origin have been active in the UAE is rather hard to explain.
The Minister of Foreign Affairs of Saudi Arabia, Adel bin Ahmed Al Jubeir indicated in his announcement on 27th June that the list delivered to Qatar is not subject to discussion and that Qatar should meet all demands stated on this list. The statement released by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Qatar on 5th June declared that the decision taken by the aforementioned countries is deeply saddening, the statements made by these countries rely on baseless and unjustified claims, there is no legitimate justification for any of the decrees taken, the main aim of these steps is to exert pressure on Qatar and that this situation is clear in breach of the right of sovereignty, in contrast to the Charter of the Gulf Cooperation Council. The same statement also announced that Qatar will take all necessary measures so that its citizens will not be affected by this crisis.
Qatari Minister of Foreign Affairs Sheikh Muhammed bin Abdurrahman Al Thani has recently made a statement indicating that there are international laws that should not be breached and borders that should not be trespassed, that they are ready to face all the consequences and in this regard, it is not possible to shut down the Turkish military base.
Qatari Minister of Finance Ali Sheriff Al Amadi stated that Qatar is far too rich to be threatened, the countries imposing an embargo on Qatar have negative credit rating notes, and that their financial status is inadequate, while in contrast Qatar is growing faster.
When the reasons triggering the crisis with Qatar are examined, it can be seen that the accusations of Saudi Arabia, UAE, Bahrain and Egypt show variety. Qatar is accused of pursuing policies that are disruptive to regional security and stability, being in a maximalist structure in Egypt, supporting the Muslim Brotherhood and thus endangering the future of monarchies in the region. In fact, given its radical and strong political standing in the region, both in economic and political domains and the political and economic policies it pursues, Qatar does disturbs monarchies in the region. Due to its support in favor of toppling authoritarian regimes in the Middle East throughout the Arab Spring, Qatar has started to be perceived as a threat by Saudi Arabia and the UAE from a realist approach, both of which are already weakening monarchical orders.
Beyond the foreign policy it pursues, Qatar, despite being a small country with an acreage of 11.500 km2, possesses significant oil and natural gas reserves. Qatar is the smallest member of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), yet receives 55% of all its income from the sale of natural gas and petroleum. In April 2017 Qatar re-started the drilling works in the Persian Gulf, the single largest field of natural gas in the World, which was suspended back in 2005. Qatar and Iran are located on the two opposite sides of the Persian Gulf. By activating their natural gas resources, Qatar and Iran, which follow common energy policies, have paved the way for a fall in the oil prices.
The US Administration is naturally not pleased with this development, as the natural gas field in the north of the Persian Gulf, which is to be operated by Qatar and Iran together, is a move that will negatively affect the shale gas exports of the US. Once perceived from this angle, this crisis can be better assessed together with the following questions “are all eyes on the natural resources of Qatar?” and “are the balances of power and natural resources in the world changing?”
Besides their geostrategic interests, Western powers have also been involved in this current crisis given their commercial interests and investments in Qatar. In this regard, it is striking that since the beginning of the crisis, contradicting statements were released by US officials. While the US President Donald Trump made statements that place Qatar as a target in connection with accusations of Qatar’s support for terrorism, the US Department of State and the US Ministry of Defense released more balanced statements.
The UK, on the other hand, has called all parties involved, requested that tensions shall not be escalated, mediation efforts shall kick in and applauded the mediation efforts of the Amir of Kuwait. Looking at the crisis in Qatar through the lenses of the US and the UK, there seem to be different interests and calculations at stake. US President Trump has made his first official visit to the Middle East and returned home with agreements worth of billions of US Dollars, most of which are related to the defence industry. In fact, Qatar, which prefers to make investments in France and Germany, may have been put under pressure to sign the defence and economic collaboration agreement with the US worth 12 billion US Dollars.
Trump has chosen Qatar as his first target in order to break the effectiveness of the UK over the Gulf States. The UK may not wish to share Qatar with another country given its rich natural gas resources and geopolitical location. It is expected that the UK will have to act in Middle East under such circumstances. According to a famous saying “a leader is not the one marching at the front, but the one leading the way”. A role of support for reconciliation emerges here for all countries.
Turkey, which returned to the region with its smart power given the multi-track pro-active foreign policy it pursues since 2002 and which established friendly relationships with the Gulf States in recent years, has undoubtedly been affected from the current crisis with Qatar. Two main factors affecting Turkey are the potential damage of friendly relations between Turkey and many of the Gulf States and Turkey’s military base in Qatar in accordance with the agreement signed in 2014.
Regarding the Turkish military base in Qatar which is included the 13-item list of demands, a statement issued by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Turkey indicated that the Turkish military base in Qatar aims for the protection of regional peace, safety and stability with the Gulf Cooperation Council and as is the case with other foreign military bases or military elements in the countries of the region, the military presence of Turkey in Qatar is principally based on a decision taken by the two countries relying on their sovereign rights.
Being an important regional power, Turkey applied its soft power in the resolution of this crisis and engaged in mediation efforts, in addition to Kuwait. In this regard, while the Turkish Minister of Foreign Affairs H.E. Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu visited Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait; the President of Turkey H.E. Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has engaged in telephone diplomacy with the related parties and internationally prominent leaders since the beginning of the crisis. Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, has explicitly stated that, given Turkey is the Summit Chair of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), he shall maintain his responsibility in the name of protection of political and economic balances, establishment of peace and stopping terror in the Gulf region. He has reminded the parties involved in the Qatar crisis of their responsibilities, declared a strong support for Qatar and showed the entire World that he shall continue to establish stability in the region. This stance of President Erdoğan is directed towards negating the expectations of those that want to disrupt the region. In fact, speeding up the process for establishing the Turkish military base in Qatar can be perceived as a strategic move to counteract those wanting to rise tensions.
The current crisis with Qatar reminds all countries of the Middle East that they have important roles to play. The aim, target and expectations of all countries should be not to support terror under any circumstances, to cut the support given to terrorist entities, to determine policies in line with the economic and social order in the new global world order and to act accordingly with the common goals for the establishment of stability in the region. The prolonged wars of the past century in the Middle East, bloodshed and tears have caused people in the World to lose their trust in states and in societies living in this region. Of course, all countries in the World want to protect the order and maintain the stability of their countries. In international relations, it is important to adapt to the common system of the World and apply this system as much as possible.